One of the first places I knew I wanted to write about in my smash-hit non-fiction sensation Whatever Happened to Tanganyika? (now storming the charts in paperback) was the Republic of Nauru, once known as Pleasant Island. With phosphate reserves more or less exhausted and (forgive me Nauru) a tradition of government more hapless and inept than anything our own dear PM could be accused of, it has had to turn to more and more wacky ways to raise income. Nowadays it seems have resorted to (forgive me again) prostituting its sovereign status to the highest — or just the latest — bidder, becoming a pawn in superpower propaganda battles by conferring its official recognition on disputed nations like Kosovo, South Ossetia and Abkhasia. According to the Guardian, and indeed the Telegraph (or rather some anonymous stringer whose words were presumably copied and pasted by both papers), “In July 2002, Nauru accepted $130m from China to de-recognise Taiwan only to re-recognise it in 2005 after apparently receiving another, better offer.” Forgive me one last time, Nauru, but does “obscure microstate agrees to recognise obscure disputed territory, for money” really bring any kudos to either party? Then again who cares, it’s among the more harmless ways they’ve found of raising some much-needed cash.
(On the more mysterious question of how Nauru could remind even the most desperate and deadline-addled journalist of “a small dinner plate dropped into the gleaming South Pacific”, I have nothing to offer.)